Learning By Sharing

When I was in Norway last spring (2013), I kept in touch with people back home a few ways. One was through a blog I regularly occasionally rarely updated. Another was through a writing group that my friends and I put together to share our fiction, poetry, and essays. ‘Write More, Write Better’ was more fun than the blog – reading the excellent stories my friends wrote, I was inspired to write my own. Where the blog felt like an obligation, the writing group was an opportunity to create and share.

While I was abroad, I also started sharing my writing in print: I started writing for the Diamondback (The University of Maryland’s Independent Student Newspaper).  I have shared my opinion in a column every two weeks since then, except summer and winter breaks. This past friday, I wrote about the frustration of writing dumb, context-less papers that are only read by professors and thrown away.

Trash bin

I keep my old papers in a circular file.

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that it is a product of blog class. Blog class is a great example of sharing-driven education. Other classes have student blogs or course blogs, and some classes publish student writing in other media. As I argue in the article, the sharing is limited to far too few classes. If no one will ever see my paper, and the assignment is not inherently captivating, I will not care enough to spend time making it good. After the fact, there is little opportunity for feedback and iteration or improvement. All in all, the current system is bad, and the massively better replacement is obvious and easy.

Share the work online.

THIS IS A NO-BRAINER.

It's a no brainer!

The image search results for ‘no brainer’ were too good to choose only one.

Sharing is good. 

From my experience, sharing writing makes writing better. I am much better at writing than I was a year ago – faster, clearer, and more concise. You can tell, if you look at my articles and blog! It has not been a constant improvement, but a general trend upward.

I attribute a good deal of the improvement to the feedback I get. When people see an article they like, they tell me. If they disagree, they tell me that too. If the point I tried to make was unclear, I get to revisit the point and try to clarify it, and I learn to be more straightforward in the future. You may have had friends edit your paper before, you know how useful genuine feedback can be. Imagine if you got feedback like that on all of your writing, and on the trends in your writing over time – how very useful it would be!

Sharing is good in other ways too.

They know all about sharing. And caring.

Writing for a real audience makes the writing real – I am not just writing this post to get a grade, I actually want to convince you of my point! Not only can genuine context improve your writing and your motivation to write, it can actually make a real difference! Reading what my friends write actually shapes my views – how about that!

Go, start blogs, share on email or facebook, share, share, SHARE!

Sharing isn’t easy, especially if you do not get lots of hits or feedback at first. If you keep bothering your friends about it, eventually you’re likely to write about something interesting to someone, and the conversation will begin. I have been using bitly to shorten links; it automatically and conveniently tracks clicks from different sources, giving you a sense of how wide your message is spreading.

So, maybe you are sold on the whole sharing thing, at least for writing, at least when you have time. If not, let me know, and I can badger you with more reasons why it is good. The internet provides lots of good ways to start sharing some things: text, images, video, web projects. In case you haven’t heard, or never thought of sharing, WordPress, Flickr, and Youtube make it painless to broadcast content. Email, Facebook, and Twitter are also cool, but y’all probably know about all that. I am a fan of Google Drive for document sharing and collaboration, but I know those who use and love Dropbox and Box for file sharing, and you can do the Microsoft or Apple thing too, I guess. Git is unbeatable for code projects, but it is super cool for text that many people might edit together.

Basically, the internet makes sharing super-easy.

Really easy.

What about all the things we learn that don’t fit as nicely on the internet? Can you share what you learn in Business Law or Introduction to Logic? What about the hovercraft or bridges you build in first year engineering? Are people really going to read your undergraduate research blog?

My answer is yes, they will read it, find a way to document what you are doing, and share it. If that means writing paragraphs about basic business law scenarios or little logic problems, so be it. If you need to take pictures of a project, do that. If instead of the internet, you share through conversations with your friends or family – that’s great too, as long as you share. If you are sharing, you will learn.

Even better than just sharing, you can encourage your friends to share, provide feedback, and help create a sharing community. We aren’t learning alone, no matter how the assignments are designed or graded. Months ago, I wrote a different column about the other side of sharing – Why You Should Read Your Friend’s Stupid Blog.

It’s important!

I can’t possibly take all the classes that everyone else takes – if I want to be all smart-like, I gotta talk to people about those classes! If you want to be all smart-like too, you’ve got to share and participate in the give and take.

Of course, I would be hypocritical if I didn’t take some steps to do better sharing of my own. In order to make it easy for you to view alllll my writing, I made a new page for it – Other Stuff I Wrote. Check it out if you like!

If you have things to share, by all means, include me. I am sometimes good about giving feedback, especially if you ask me directly. The key is not going to be sharing your work in my comment thread though – it’ll be starting your own blog and sharing there.

Now get out and Share!

Share All The Things!

 

[Brief Lumosity and Duolingo update: I have been cruising along pretty well on Lumosity, but I have not been very active on Duolingo. According to the Lumosity people, my brain is growing, which is cool – I have yet to notice myself remembering things that I would otherwise forget, but I don’t know when that is supposed to happen. My German has stalled, but hopefully I will plunge back into it once the semester is over… Has anyone gone over and tried either of these sites? Any other interesting daily-training-type sites that I should look into?]

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Learning language

7 billion people in the world, uncounted words to read and listen to. Lots of the words are English – far more than I could hope to slurp up in eighty or ninety years. Far more are in other languages. I’ll return in later posts [EDIT: Hold me to that, please] to the question of which words to pay attention to. The Big Selection Problem, content overload, is one of the more compelling questions for curious minds, ever more so with our increasing access to stories and studies and blogs like mine.

Today is about learning languages. Speaking multiple languages is one way to be smarter – this NYT article says it fights Alzheimer’s and improves children’s ability to sort colored shapes. Cool.

Even if you aren’t a professional block sorter, the research seems to show your brain grows more robust when you learn to switch between different languages. On top of that, multiple language proficiency has become a big ol’ status indicator with real career implications. Plus it is fun and cool. Travel and stuff. Seems like the reasons in favor are overwhelming. 

But it’s hard! It takes time you don’t have, energy you can’t afford, and who’s to say if you could even do it, even if you decided that you wanted to? And don’t you lose the ability to learn language once you get old and start reading blogs?

I took Spanish in high school and did okay. I wanted to keep going with it, but didn’t have people to practice with or any particular goal in mind in terms of fluency. When I went to Norway last year (spring semester ’13), I picked up enough to follow a few conversations, but not hold one myself. I felt bad, but everyone spoke much better English than I spoke Norwegian, and it seemed much more important at the time that we communicate than that I painfully practice my pitiful language skills. In retrospect, it was a huge missed opportunity! Although, if I had my choice, maybe I would pick a language with more than 5 million speakers…

Thankfully, technology.

I started with Duolingo about a month ago, and I’m at level 6 in German. Where that actually places me in my learning, I don’t know – I know a couple hundred words, probably. Still, it’s free and fun and simple and it only takes ten minutes a day, and I have learned words that I certainly did not know before. Learning a whole language will still require tons of time and effort, but it somehow feels manageable – it’s just a quick lesson. Just a bite-sized chunk of time. I can handle that. I can make that a habit. It helps that I have friends registered too, so I can compete with them and reinforce my learning socially.

This will be a recurring theme. Technology makes it easier to put massive hours into learning. Whether it is e-readers or apps or that thing that blocks facebook for you, it’s all getting easier and closer. It’s okay to feel intimidated, right?

I can’t tell yet if I will learn a whole language for free online, but I feel more excited than scared about it.  Language learning seems like a thing that the internet should be able to do. Das Internet ist gut. Lernen ist gut. Zusammen sind sie wunderbar!

Auf Wiedersehen!

P.S. Let me know how you like your posts – quick and topical, like this one was (sort of), or meandering and journally? I am definitely planning on including  tools like Duolingo that you might not have known, which are making the world a more fun place to learn. Let me know what you think! It’s your blog too!